Raj Kumar Panta has studied in America, Germany, India and Nepal but chose to undertake his PhD at the University of Otago, Christchurch, because of ‘a small group of researchers doing amazing things’ in the field of radiology.
Panta is undertaking a thesis on the effectiveness of a new spectral-CT scanner in diagnosing atherosclerotic disease, or arterial hardening.
In New Zealand a person dies every 90 minutes from heart disease. A large proportion of these deaths are caused by atherosclerotic disease.
The scanner Panta is working with is the MARS CT (Medipix All Resolution System-Computed Tomography) scanner, which was designed in a joint project between the University of Otago, Christchurch, Canterbury University and CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research). It is the only one of its kind in the world.
The MARS CT scanner is a colour CT scanner and allows radiologists to look at artery plaque internally. Small amounts of active plaque can be more dangerous than larger burdens of inactive plaque. Spectral CT could allow doctors to see whether the plaque is quiescent or active without the need for surgery or biopsy. This would mean personalizing treatment based on disease activity in each person, not just on how much the plaque is blocking the artery.
Panta says the innovative medical imaging principles underlying the scanner was his main motivation to move from Heidelberg University in Germany to undertake his PhD at the University of Otago, Christchurch.
“I heard that this small group of people in Christchurch were working on a new scanner and it fascinated me. So I got a scholarship and came to Christchurch. It was a great decision.’’
Panta’s work involves using the MARS CT scanner to analyse excised tissue samples from people with atherosclerotic disease to assess its vulnerability of rupturing. His aim is to identify the biological hallmarks of the disease and whether it is feasible to use the scanner in diagnosis.
Panta says he was also attracted to study at the University of Otago, Christchurch, because of its international reputation of conducting excellent medical research and the laid-back attitude of New Zealanders, along with the country’s beautiful landscapes.